There is growing speculation that Lotus Renault GP has dispensed with Nick Heidfeld’s services for the Belgian Grand Prix, with the suggestion being that he’ll be out for the rest of the year.
His replacement looks to be Bruno Senna, who had his first Friday practice outing in Heidfeld’s car at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The team has refused to confirm the speculation, although many aspects of the announcement make sense in light of the team’s owner Genii Capital announcing that it had merged operations with Brazil’s World Wide Investments (WWI).
Formed in 2010, WWI confirmed it was looking to invest over $1 billion in a mix of real estate, forestry and energy – perhaps some of this investment could flow to the Renault team, which is known to be short of a few quid at the moment…
We reported in June that Genii owner Gerard Lopez and Senna travelled to Brazil looking for sponsors, and recent rhetoric from Lopez and Renault team principal Eric Boullier has been especially critical of Heidfeld, who was signed up as Robert Kubica’s replacement after the Pole was injured in a rally smash.
After his sparkling podium drive at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Heidfeld has largely failed to deliver, although much of that can be attributed to a general decline in Renault’s form inasmuch as its rivals have been able to accelerate their rate of development during the mid-season.
While he has scored more points than his less-experienced team-mate Vitaly Petrov and he has finished ahead of Petrov on five of the seven occasions where they have both finished the race, it is his qualifying speed (or lack of it) that is the problem, at least from the team management’s position: Petrov has out-qualified Heidfeld 8-3.
And certainly, if the money rumours are ringing true, then Senna and his sponsorship backing is a more attractive proposition than the salaried Heidfeld, who brings no financial support.
But the real question remains of why the team – which is on the verge of delivering its first major upgrade at Belgium since the start of the season – would want to dump an experienced campaigner like Heidfeld? Compare his form to Senna, who didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during his debut season with HRT last year, and you could well argue that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t…
It can only be commercial reasons driving this decision. Putting two relatively inexperienced pilots at the helm of a car lacking development and budget will not propel it up the grid and allow it to reclaim fourth place from Mercedes GP in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Perhaps the very attraction to Senna is the commercial opportunities of pairing the Senna name being behind the wheel of a black-and-gold car bearing some Lotus stickers?
Sadly, this type of manoeuvring – and we still don’t have confirmation it is true, we will stress – is indicative of how rudderless an organisation the Renault team has become since Genii took over.
A little-developed and invested car is not Heidfeld’s fault, but sadly he will be made the scapegoat in this messy affair.
He has generally made the best in some really dreadful cars (think of the 2000 Prost or the 2004 Jordan), and did so without whining.
But unfortunately without winning as well.
This is hardly the exit he deserves, and perhaps getting into bed with BMW’s 2012 DTM project would be the next wise step he should consider. At least he can witness Renault’s failings from a safe distance…
[Original image via LAT]